Is ‘phubbing’ ruining your relationship?

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020 00:00 |
Not happy couple. Photo/Courtesy

The tendency to ignore a partner in favour of the phone aka ‘phubbing’ can be written off as harmless, but research shows the habit can have serious consequences to a relationship

Smartphone dependency is on the rise. Research shows that a typical smartphone user checks his or her phone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times each day.

The addiction has given rise to a new phenomenon called ‘Phubbing’ derived from the phrase phone-snubbing. Phubbing is described as the act of snubbing a person in favour of your phone. It has become so common that phones are now ranked among top four biggest sources of conflict in romantic relationships after money, children, and sex.

A recent study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture examined how smartphone use and smartphone dependency affects the health of relationships amongst adults.

Young couples were asked about their own smartphone use and dependency as well as the perceived smartphone use and dependency of their partners.

The study showed a significant link between higher levels of dependency on smartphones and higher levels of relationship uncertainty.

Additionally, participants who perceived their partners as being highly dependent on their smartphone were significantly less satisfied in their relationships.

Depressive symptoms

The study also offered an interesting twist. The results suggested that smartphone use, in general, does not affect relational health.

Rather it is the ‘psychological reliance on these devices, and one’s need to constantly be connected with his or her smartphone, that potentially affects relationships and not actual use.

This dependence on smartphones makes the devices so alluring that romantic partners simply can’t compete. 

Another researcher, Brandon McDaniel, who studied phones and relationships at Illinois State University, found that when technology devices frequently interrupted partners, couples had more conflict over technology use, lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction.

Jane Ngare, a business woman in Nairobi and married with three children cannot agree more. She recalls how phone addiction almost ruined her marriage. 

She says they would find themselves totally ignoring the children while busy watching WhatsApp statuses among other social media activities during dinner without raising their heads for a moment.

Before long, these subtle conflicts slipped under the cracks and caused blow up fights.

“Realising the negative impact our phones were starting to cause in our marriage, we had a serious talk about it.

We resolved to only check the phone when it rang while in the house or hanging out together and get back online if alone.

It worked,” she says adding, “Now we enjoy more bonding time, and less misunderstandings, at least when it comes to the phone.”  

Always distracted

So how can you tell if your phone is negatively affecting your relationship?

Albert Marango, a sociologist says one of the ways is if you constantly find yourself being distracted by your phone.

Your phone is always on your mind, even when you don’t want it to be. “Some of the most private moments couples have are in bed, yet checking your phone first thing when you wake up can feel like an involuntary impulse.

You put the phone near your bed and the first reaction when you wake up is check your email, texts, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Know that there is a problem,” he says.

It just becomes a habit that you do, without even realising that you’re doing it. On top of this being annoying to your partner who just wanted a morning spoon-fest, it also removes the sense of aloneness when you open up Instagram. The impact is that instead of waking up with just you, you’re waking with 50 other people.

Feeling neglected

You feel neglected when your partner has their phone out, even if they’re ‘totally listening’. The other person will say ‘I’m listening, I can listen, let me just check one message.’

Even if your partner can repeat everything you just said verbatim, the fact that they were scrolling through WhatsApp or Instagram the whole time definitely drains you of feelings of closeness.

If you are looking at your phone rather than in your partner’s eyes, there can be no intimacy. Or, at the very least, it sends the message that you think actively listening to them is as important as checking your notifications. 

Hurt when texts delay

You can feel genuinely hurt if your partner doesn’t text soon enough. There’s a lot of other subtext, like how quickly do they respond, ‘I texted you right away and you didn’t text back, what does that mean?’

When people text, to them, it’s very immediate, and if there isn’t an immediate response, you kind of feel like you’re being ignored. 

Social media

 Your mood around your partner gets worse when you check social media. Research shows that if you are spending time scrolling through social media, it can make you feel more depressed.

It is too easy to compare yourself to others on social media. Sometimes, all it takes to ruin date night is seeing that your high school deskmate just got engaged, while you’ve been hoping your boyfriend would propose literally anywhere.

Marango finally advises couples that if they are going to build deep relationships with each othe, they will need to be intentional about how they use our smartphones. 

“We don’t need to abandon the phones altogether. Rather, we need to be thoughtful about how we use them and how they affect our relationships with others,” he concludes. 

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